Villas-Boas haunted by the 'ghost' of Mourinho

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When Andre Villas-Boas arrived in west London last June, his job spec consisted of rejuvenating an ageing Chelsea squad, instilling a brand of attractive football, and challenging for major honours both domestically and in Europe.

Whilst the Blues remain in the Champions League - having qualified for the knockout stages by the skin of their teeth - it would be fair to say that the club's standing, particularly in the Premier League, has faded.

Currently lying in fourth place, 14 points adrift of leaders Manchester City, Villas-Boas is frantically trying to maintain Chelsea's stay in the elite four, as the club looks precariously over its shoulder in a bid to stave off the growing threat of the chasing pack.

The Blues' form this season has been anything but consistent - a claim perfectly justified by their 3-3 draw with Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. After firing themselves into a comfortable lead, Chelsea's shaky defence seemed to self-implode, letting slip a three-goal home advantage in the Premier League for the first time in the club's history.

In fairness, the players have shown glimpses of what they are capable of this season. The arrival of Juan Mata, the standout summer signing, has provided plenty of reason for optimism. Chelsea will be there or thereabouts come the end of the season, but their erratic form leaves them susceptible to falling further behind.

Despite their inconsistencies this year, the Portuguese tactician is confident that his players will be back fighting for the title next season, and says that his long-term vision will re-establish the club as a Premier League powerhouse for many years to come.

"Next year, for sure," assured Villas-Boas. "I didn't want to be allowed a transitional period. At this level you shouldn't be allowed a transitional year. But the project for next year is good and is being built and we believe a lot in it.

"We will be able to compete at a different level. We have a lot of faith going towards next year. I have no doubts in my mind that I will be here next season."

But like any 'big' job comes big expectations, and after just over seven months at the helm, Villas-Boas has already been forced to endure constant talk about his future. Recent media speculation has even suggested a possible Stamford Bridge return for Jose Mourinho, amid reports of growing unrest at the Bernabeu.

The Chelsea chief responded to rumours of a reunion with the self-proclaimed 'Special One' by saying that it was his 'ghost' that haunted all leading Premier League managers, before insisting that he is confident he has the full backing of club owner Roman Abramovich.

"Speculation will always come when you are unsuccessful and you are unsuccessful at Chelsea when we don't finish first," he explained. "That led to all kinds of different managerial changes in all kinds of clubs and countries. It's pretty normal.

"First, at the moment there's not a vacancy at this club. The Real Madrid manager is not available; he's tied up to the best club in the world.

"A manager of Jose's dimension will always be an attractive target. If he makes himself available to return to his beloved England it will capture the interest of City, United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and so on.

"In that sense, we're all under pressure, from Mancini to Ferguson, me to Dalglish, to Harry Redknapp and so on. He's the No.1 coach in the world. Whenever he [be]comes available he will be a ghost on every bench in the Premier League.

"It doesn't put more pressure on me at all. He said he will come back. It's the best league in world. It would be excellent for the Premier League in terms of excitement and further competition to have him back. It would be fantastic."

Quite why Mourinho is angling for a return to English football is a mystery. He would not be able to make head nor tail of it today - the league that defending forgot.

In 2004, during his first season at Chelsea, Mourinho sneered as news of a 5-4 scoreline in a highly charged north London derby between Tottenham and Arsenal came through to him after the Blues' solid victory at Fulham.

"That is not a football score," he questioned. "It is a hockey score. Sometimes in training, we play matches, three against three. If the score gets to 5-4, I send the players back to the dressing room. If they are not defending properly, why should we bother?"

In a season that has seen no end of high-scoring results, predictable only in its unpredictability, Villas-Boas must be given time to steady a ship that promises so much, yet in the current climate is at risk of delivering very little, even nothing at all.

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